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Former treasurer of Sebastopol nonprofit arrested on suspicion of embezzlement

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Authorities arrested a Sebastopol woman this week, accusing her of illegally funneling thousands of dollars from a nonprofit that raises money for enrichment programs at two local schools.

Melissa Riley, 45, remained in jail Thursday afternoon after her arrest the day before, when she was booked into the Sonoma County jail on suspicion of felony embezzlement and grand theft.

Riley, who served in a volunteer position as the nonprofit’s treasurer until the money was discovered missing in early December, also was held on misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said. Deputies found Riley was carrying what appeared to be methamphetamine during her arrest in the jail’s lobby, where she went to attend a probation appointment related to a prior DUI case, Valencia said.

“Her job was to make checks out and manage the funds for the program,” Valencia said. “She had access to the (bank) account.”

Authorities launched the embezzlement investigation on Dec. 3, after deputies were called to investigate a report of missing funds from the Twin Hills Apple Blossom Educational Foundation. An audit from a former bookkeeper revealed the foundation’s account was empty, Valencia said.

The nonprofit, where Valencia said Riley first began working as a treasurer in August 2018, raises money for enrichment programs at both Apple Blossom Elementary and Twin Hills Middle School, such as art and music classes.

An initial investigation found funds had been transferred from the foundation to several other bank accounts investigators suspected were in Riley’s control, Valencia said. Investigators could not say exactly how much money they believed Riley took from the account, though it was believed to be in excess of $40,000, Valencia said. A timeline of the transfers was not clear as of Thursday.

“It’s a big puzzle,” Valencia said. “We’re waiting for more statements, bank information to come in, and then we can give the case to the District Attorney’s Office for a prosecution.”

Twin Hills Union School District Superintendent Barbara Bickford, whose school district coordinates with the nonprofit, declined to comment about the arrest in an email Thursday. She said her district appreciated the hard work of board members who manage the educational foundation.

The nonprofit has switched to a new bank and has implemented increased security measures, among them requiring two signatures for all transactions the foundation makes, Bickford added. The board’s bylaws also are being revised.

Several attempts to reach members of the Twin Hills Apple Blossom Educational Foundation were not returned Thursday.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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